Why Study American History?

The answer for me is pretty simple, I have just always found it compelling. I think now, in today’s divisive and confrontational American Culture, it is more interesting than when I was a student. There are new and vibrant narratives arising from the tombs of “original scholarship”, narratives that develop history from diverse perspectives rather than traditional American “Exceptionalistic” interpretations. The interesting thing about that is that the new narratives still point to America as exceptional. Not in the sense that I was taught, which was there was a group of men who drew “divine profound philosophy” from a sacred mountaintop and gathered a leaderless group of colonies together and successfully revolted against the most powerful nation in the world. But that there were a group of disjointed British Colonies, without a common set of codified laws, or united government; nor any kind of organized militia, fleet, or manufacturing capacity; citizens that began slowly to come together through the freedom of assembly and expression that existed precisely because there was not a centralized American government and in defiance of British restraints.

So I was taught about the Founders and what they did and said, not much about the 99.9% of the rest of the people, nor how they evolved from vastly different life styles and emerging cultures to choose to unite and fight for freedom. Freedom from what they feared the most….slavery to Great Britain. Learning how they looked past their own internal terrible slavery contradiction until it exploded. Learning how they united in a world with no instant messaging, or broadcast media, but with home spun presses, whose pages were mostly local until a horseman would carry it to another press in another town to be included in the next printing.

It is fascinating to me to read about the birth of the sons of liberty in one New York town and how this concept on unity swept slowly through ununited colonies and then ebbed as the stamp act was repealed only to rise again and spread throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic to Great Britain, France and even Italy and how this passion for freedom rose in the hearts and minds of citizens throughout the Western World. And also to learn about the town meetings, non importation committees, largely women, who restricted the sale of British goods as a protest to onerous taxation. How the Boston Tea Party was actually a quiet,last resort and self policed resistance.

It was the 99.9% that empowered the Founders, not the other way around. Studying them is where the action is and I am thrilled to find that the new and emerging scholarship is delving through the written legacies from those times and bringing them to light. For what was achieved was the beginning of government not of Kings and despots and religion but of the rule of law. The rule of law structured to bring all the points of view of citizens to the table, to prevent the rule of the few, and to enable shared (compromised) agreement of the many.

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3 Responses

  1. So are we going to see any “book reports”?

  2. America is exceptional, and for all the reasons you named, and many other reasons you didn’t. That the Republic could have held together all these years has no match in any other country I know of. Its greatest trial was by far the Civil War, which could have gone either way…but didn’t.
    Here’s what I hate though…that the term “American exceptionalism” is used to mean that America is always right. This is clearly and blatantly not true. And that if you don’t agree that America is always right in that meaning of exceptionalism, that you are unpatriotic. That makes me crazy.
    It’s why these are my favorite words in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union..” Not a perfect Union, but a more perfect Union, and the Constitution makes it possible for us to keep trying. To me, that is the exceptionalism of America…that we keep trying.

  3. sc probably not. The books I am mostly reading are historical analysis of Early American History. , more of an academic focus than popular reading. If you aren’t really interested in knowing what’s between the pages it might prove tiring. As such they don’t lend themselves to a book report format. I would say however that one of the more interesting ones was is Edmund S Morgan’s American Slavery American Freedom, which focuses on the colonization and evolution of Virginia, which produced 4 of our first 5 Presidents (all slaveholders). They were at once the most eloquent spokesmen of Republicanism and at the same time came from the largest slave holding state. I feel like I understand how it happened after reading his argument. Which is no way a defense but just an analysis. I have always been inquisitive about that and about how the holocaust could happen, now I fell I can adequately answer the first question.

    FN you are correct our Republic has no match in history and has remarkably changed the course of world history. The irony is that much of the rest of the world either wants to come here or kill us.

    I guess the thing that angers me the most about our elected officials is how much they miss the mark of what this country is about while serving their own special interests. And (again) when they use the phrase “the Amecian People want xyz…..” as if they were thinking about anything except being re-elected by a small portion of the American People.

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